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THE DEATH OF GOD

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This week for our theological article, we will be examining Friedrich Nietzsche’s (1844 – 1900) infamous statement, “God is dead.”

Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche (pronounced ‘knee-cha’) was born in Röcken, near Leipzig, on October 15th, 1944. His father, Karl Ludwig Nietzsche (1813 – 1849), was a Lutheran pastor and former teacher, and his mother was Franziska Oehler (1826 – 1897). The Nietzsche family quickly grew to include a daughter, Elisabeth (1846 – 1935), and another son, Ludwig Joseph (1848 – 1850). Unfortunately, the family would be beset by tragedy. In 1849, when Nietzsche was five-years-old, Karl Nietzsche would suffer a devastating brain haemorrhage and die. Then, as if to rub in salt in their wounds, the infant Ludwig Joseph, would die unexpectedly shortly after.

Nietzsche was educated at the prestigious Schulpforta school near Naumburg. There he received an education in theology, classical languages, and the humanities. After graduating, young Nietzsche attended the University of Bonn before moving to the University of Leipzig. During his time there, Nietzsche became acquainted with the philosophy of Arthur Schopenhauer (1788 – 1860) whose work, the World as Will and Representation (1818), would have a tremendous influence. Then, aged only twenty-four, Nietzsche was awarded the position of professor of Greek language and Literature at the University of Basel in Switzerland. He had never written a doctoral dissertation.

Nietzsche left academia briefly to serve as a medical orderly in the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1871). He was discharged due to poor health. Nietzsche returned to Basel where he came acquainted with the cultural historian, Jacob Burckhardt (1818 – 1897), and the composer, Richard Wagner (1813 – 1883). Wagner’s influence on Nietzsche can most readily be seen in the Birth of Tragedy.

During the late 1870s, Nietzsche became increasingly beset with debilitating health problems: digestive problems, poor eyesight, and migraines. He was forced to spend months off work, and eventually agreed to retire with a modest pension. Nietzsche was only thirty-four years old.

From there, Nietzsche devoted the rest of his life to the study and writing of philosophy. Between 1870 and 1889, Nietzsche wrote nineteen books, including: The Birth of Tragedy (1872), Philosophy in the Tragic Age of the Greeks (1873), Human, All Too Human (1878), the Gay Science (1882), Thus Spake Zarathustra (1883), Beyond Good and Evil (1886), On the Genealogy of Morals (1887), Twilight of the Idols (1888), Ecce Homo (1888), and the Will to Power (1901, technically unpublished manuscripts published by his sister, Elisabeth).

In 1889, in Turin Italy, Nietzsche suffered a mental breakdown after seeing a horse being flogged in the Piazza Carlo Alberto. In the following days, Nietzsche sent a series of ‘madness letters’ to Cosimo Wagner (1837 – 1930) and Jacob Burckhardt in which he signed his name ‘Dionysos’, claimed to be ‘the crucified one’, and asserted that he was the creator of the world. It was quickly agreed that Nietzsche should be brought back to Basel. There he was incarcerated in a clinic in Jena.

In 1890, Nietzsche’s mother, Franziska, brought him home to Naumburg where she looked after him until her death in 1897. From there, Nietzsche was cared for by his sister, Elisabeth, in Weimar. He died on August 25th, 1900 at the age of fifty-five.

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The statement, “God is dead” is Nietzsche’s most memorable and provocative statement. (Of course, he wasn’t the first one to coin the term. That was Heinrich Heine (1797 – 1856). Nietzsche merely philosophised it). It first appeared in the Gay Science in a fable entitled, the Parable of the Madman. In the parable, the madman asks, ‘where is God?’, only to be informed that God had been killed by man:

“God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we, murderer of all murderers, console ourselves? That which was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet possessed has bled to death under our knives. Who will wipe the blood off us? With what water could we purify ourselves?”

Of course, Nietzsche wasn’t talking about the literal death of God (he was, after all, an atheist). Instead, he was referring to the death of the concept or idea of God. The statement was meant as a reference to the decline of traditional and metaphysical doctrines that had dominated European thought and culture for centuries.

Nietzsche observed, correctly, that western morality was predicated on the presumption of the truth of Judeo-Christian values. Christianity had become infused in European culture and thought. Philosophers and scientists like Copernicus (1473 – 1543), René Descartes (1596 – 1650), Isaac Newton (1643 – 1727), Saint Thomas Aquinas (1225 – 1274), George Berkeley (1685 – 1753), Saint Augustine (354-430AD), Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646-1716), and more were all deeply influenced by their belief in God. Culturally, Handel’s (1685 – 1759) Messiah, Da Vinci’s (1452 – 1519) the Last Supper, and Michelangelo’s (1475 – 1564) Statue of David are all infused with religious themes.

The decline of Christianity’s supremacy in society began with the Enlightenment. Science replaced scripture. During this time, the belief in a universe governed by God was replaced by governance through the laws of physics, the divine right to rule was replaced with rule by consent, and morality no longer had to emanate from a loving and omniscient God.

The legacy of the Enlightenment, Nietzsche rightly observed, was that Christianity lost its central place in Western culture. (Of course, it can also be argued that Christianity’s central doctrines and tenets have been so absorbed by society people no longer recognise their influence). Science, replete with its elaborate depictions of physical reality, ultimately replaced religious truth.

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Nietzsche’s assertion is often seen as a triumphal or victorious statement. However, analysis reveals that Nietzsche did not necessarily see the death of God as a good thing. He recognised that as society moved closer to secularisation, the order and meaning religion gave to society would fall by the wayside. People would no longer base their lives on their religious beliefs, but on other factors. Their lives would not be grounded in anything. As Nietzsche wrote in the Twilight of the Idols:

“When one gives up the Christian faith, one pulls the right to Christian morality out from under one’s feet. This morality is by no means self-evident… Christianity is a system, a whole view of things thought out together. By breaking one main concept out of it, the faith in God, one breaks the whole.”

Nietzsche believed the solution to the problem would be to create our own, individual values. Christian morality (derided by Nietzsche as ‘slave morality’) would be replaced by ‘master morality.’ Human beings would strive to become Übermensches or overmen.

The problem with Nietzsche’s suggestion is that it is virtually impossible to keep society ordered when everyone’s values are different. Furthermore, as Carl Jung (1875 – 1961) points out, it is impossible for us to create our own values. Most of us can’t keep our new year’s resolutions, let alone create a value system that will bring order to society.

Nietzsche, along with Russian novelist, Fyodor Dostoevsky (1821 – 1881), predicted that the 20th Century would be characterised either by apocalyptic nihilism or equally apocalyptic ideological totalitarianism. In the end, the world experienced both. The wake of the Great War (1914 – 1918) saw Europe plagued by communism, fascism, Nazism, and quasi-religious nationalism. In Russia, communism, through which a person’s value was derived from his labour, arose under the Bolsheviks. In Italy, fascism, through which a person’s value was derived from his nationality, arose under Benito Mussolini (1883 – 1945). In Germany, Nazism, through which a person’s value was derived from his race, arose under Adolf Hitler (1889 – 1945). All of these systems attempted to give people’s lives meaning by replacing the state with God.

In the end, the 20th Century would be the deadliest and most destructive in human history. The legacy of two world wars, nuclear weapons, communism, and fascism has been millions of painful and unnecessary deaths. This is what we get when we remove God from society: needless pain and suffering.

ON WAR

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The evolutionary psychologist E.O. Wilson referred to war as “humanity’s hereditary curse.” It has become infused in our collective and individual psyches. The Iliad tells the story of the Trojan War, Shakespeare’s Henry V is centred around the Battle of Agincourt, and All Quiet on the Western Front tells of the experiences of young German soldiers on the Western Front.

The purpose of war can be split into two fields: philosophical and pragmatic. Most modern wars are fought for ideological, and therefore philosophical reasons: capitalism versus communism, fascism versus democracy, and so forth. Richard Ned Lebow, a political scientist at the University of London, hypothesised that nations go to war for reasons of ‘national spirit.’ Institutions and nation-states may not have psyches per-say, but the individuals who run them do, and it is natural for these individuals to project the contents of their psyches onto the institutions and nation-states they are entrusted with.

Rationalists, on the other hand, have another perspective. War, they argue, is primarily used by nations to increase their wealth and power: allowing them to annex new territories, take control of vital resources, pillage, rape, and so forth. Bolshevism arose in the political instability and food shortages of World War One Russia. The Nazis used the spectre of Germany’s humiliating defeat in the Great War and its treatment in the Treaty of Versailles as a stepping stone to political power. In the Ancient World, Sargon of Akkad (2334-2279BC) used war to form the Akkadian Empire, and then used war to quell invasions and rebellion. Similarly, Philip II of Macedonia (382BC – 336BC) used war to unify the city states of Ancient Greece.

Another explanation may be that we engage in war because we are naturally inclined to. War speaks to our need for group identity, and to our deep predilection for conflict. And it should come as no surprise that the two are not mutually exclusive. Our strong predilection towards our own group not only makes us more willing to help other members of that group, it makes us more willing to commit evil on its behalf. Chimpanzees have been known to invade other congresses of chimps and go on killing sprees. The obvious intention being to increase territory and decrease intra-sexual competition. Similarly, our own evolutionary and primitive past is fraught with violence and conflict. It should not escape our attention that history is abundant with examples of invading soldiers slaughtering men and raping women.

Like all the profound aspects of culture, war conceptualises a facet of a deeper truth. It has been central to our history and culture capturing both the more heroic and the more frightening aspects of our individual and collective psyches. We both influence and are influenced by war.

THE PROBLEM WITH PACIFISM

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Otto Von Bismarck, the great Prussian Statesman, once observed that it is better to profit from the misfortunes of others than to learn from one’s own mistakes. With the current threat from North Korea, it would perhaps be wise to learn from the annals of history, and not repeat the mistake of following a pacifist agenda.

We like to see nature as a wise and fair judge which rewards the good, protects the weak and punishes the wicked. In reality, it is a callous and unpredictable maiden.  It should come as no surprise, then, that history shows the human-race to be inherently blood thirsty, violent, and cruel.  This violence is derived not only from competition over resources and mates but also from our social natures. This is an aspect of our character we share with our primate cousins. A team of researchers at Yale University, headed by psychologist Laurie Santos, revealed that primates treat outsiders with greater suspicion and disdain than members of their own group. This trait can also be observed in modern humans, as Santos observed: “one of the more troubling aspects of human nature is that we evaluate people differently depending on whether they’re a member of our ‘ingroup’ or ‘outgroup.’ He went on to explain how this leads to violence: “pretty much every conflict in human history has involved people making distinctions on the basis of who is a member of their own race, religion, social class, and so on.”

In 1942, C.S. Lewis published the essay “why I am not a pacifist.” For Lewis, the question of pacifism was a moral one. Take murder, for example, no one can intuitively argue murder to be wrong under all circumstances, but it is possible to make such a claim using rational arguments. Pacifism, then, is the irrational belief that violence can only be used for evil, and never for good. If this is the case, defeating a tyrannical power like Imperial Japan or Nazi Germany is evil because it necessitates the use of violence, stopping a man raping a woman is evil if doing so requires the use of physical force, and executing a serial killer is immoral because it violates his right to life. Any individual who takes such a position is not a moralist, but a coward and a fool. This type of peace is that of “Ulysses and his comrades, imprisoned in the cave of the Cyclops and waiting their turn to be devoured” (Jean Jacques Rousseau, a Lasting Peace Through the Federation of Europe and the State of War).

When Patrick Henry, an American attorney and politician, gave his famous “give me liberty or give me death” speech, he asked: “Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery?” Pacifism presents nature as passive and just when, in reality, it is unkind, capricious, brutal, unforgiving, ruthless, bloodthirsty, and cruel. With the threat of North Korea looming over our heads, it may serve us to remember that those who do not conform to the laws of reality are always destroyed by them.

FBI RAIDS PAUL MANAFORT’S HOME

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On July 26th, the FBI raided Paul Manafort’s home in Alexandra, Virginia. The FBI seized documents and other materials from Manafort’s home in relation to the Russia investigation.

Manafort, who was Trump’s campaign chairman, has appeared cooperative to investigators in public. Even going as far as to voluntarily testify before a Senate Intelligence Committee on July 25th.

However, there are clearly questions that the FBI felt still needed to be answered. According to Politico, Federal Investigators approached Manfort’s son-in-law, Jeffrey Yohai, in an attempt to get inside his head.

Peter Zeidenburg, a former prosecutor for the Justice Department, commented:

“It is a big deal. Prosecutors do not take aggressive steps like this with subjects who the government feels are being open and cooperative. And they also do not do this to ‘send a message.’ They do it because they think there is evidence to be found and that if they do not act aggressively, it could be destroyed.”

The simple fact is that obtaining a search warrant usually requires investigators to have a rational reason to believe that there is evidence of a crime. Nor does the FBI execute warrants on cooperating witnesses, they don’t need to.  What the investigation will prove cannot be known. Nevertheless, the President Trump’s Administration has cause for concern.

PRESIDENT TRUMP THREATENS NORTH KOREA

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Donald Trump has warned North Korea that it would be met with “fire and fury” if it continued its sabre-rattling. Trump stated:

“North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States. They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen. He has been very threatening beyond a normal statement. As I said, I said  they will be met with fire, fury and frankly power the likes of which this world has never seen before.”

North Korea has responded to Trump’s threat by threatening to strike the US military base in Guam.  Unsurprisingly, Trump’s warning has many people concerned that a potential standoff between the two countries may devolve into a war. According to a CNN poll, seventy-two percent of Americans feel uneasy about potential conflict with North Korea. Despite this, the same poll shows that sixty-percent of Americans feel North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons is a threat that needs to be contained.

Defence Secretary Jim Mattis has warned that a full-blown war with North Korea would be “catastrophic“, commenting that it would be “more serious in terms of human in terms of human suffering than anything we’ve seen since 1953.”

A war with North Korea is unlikely, however. President Trump would need to seek the approval of Congress before he could launch an attack on the rogue nation. As Republican Senator for Alaska, told Erin Burnett on Out Front:

“One of the options that they’re looking at that would eventually materialise is a preemptive war on the Korean Peninsular launched the US. Well, that would clearly in my view require the authorization from Congress.”

NORTH KOREA THREATENS US

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North Korea has vowed to strike the US with “thousand-fold” revenge in response to recent sanctions imposed upon them by the UN. These sanctions came as a result of the rogue nation’s recent intercontinental ballistic missile launch.

North Korea’s official news agency, KCNA, has described these sanctions as “crimes” and as a “violent violation of their sovereignty.”  Meanwhile, their foreign minister threatened at the ASEAN summit:

“There is no bigger mistake than the United States believing that its land is safe across the ocean.”

US Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, has vowed not to back down in the face of North Korea’s threats, telling Fox News that “we are not going to run scared from them.” As with all bullies, North Korea will only remain strong as long as they feel others are intimidated by them.

CHARLIE GARD LOSES THE FIGHT FOR HIS LIFE

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The British courts have blood on their hands. Today, Charlie Gard’s parents, Chris Gard and Connie Yates, have dropped their legal battle to take their son to the United States for experimental treatment. According to the couple’s barrister, Grant Armstrong, irreversible muscle and tissue damage suffered by eleven-month-old Charlie has made it too late for the experimental treatment to have any effect.

Chris Gard and Connie Yates spent months fighting for their son, who received offers of help from Pope Francis and President Trump. Unfortunately, despite raising over a million dollars for his cause, time wasting by the British Courts have forced Charlie’s parents to switch off his life-support.

Charlie suffered from a rare mitochondrial disorder known as Mitochondrial DNA Depletion Syndrome. The condition left him paralysed and unable to breathe unaided. On June 30th, 2017, the European Court of Human Rights ruled against transporting Charlie to the United States and ordered his life support be switched off.

Charlie’s parents issued the following statement:

“This is one of the hardest things that we will ever have to do, which is let our beautiful Charlie go. Put simply, this is about a sweet, gorgeous, innocent little boy who was born with a rare disease who had a real, genuine chance at life, and a family who loved him so very dearly and that’s why we fought so hard for him. As Charlie’s devoted and loving parents, we have decided it is no longer in Charlie’s best interest to pursue treatment, and we will let our son go and be with the angels. Our son is an absolute warrior and we could not be prouder of him, and we will miss him terribly. His body, heart, and soul may soon be gone, but his spirit will live on for eternity, and he will make a difference to peoples’ lives for years to come, we will make sure of that. We are now going to spend our last precious moments with our son, Charlie, who, unfortunately, won’t make his first birthday in just under two weeks time, and we will ask our privacy is respected at this very difficult time. To Charlie, we say, mummy and daddy, we love you so much. We always have and we always will and we are so sorry that we couldn’t save you.  Sweet dreams, baby. Sleep tight, our beautiful little boy. We love you. Thank you”

Charlie Gard’s case is one of the greatest examples of the evil which can be inflicted when governments and the courts are vested with too much power.

LATEST ATTEMPT TO REPEAL AND REPLACE OBAMACARE A FAILURE

 

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Monday night, Utah Republican Senator, Mike Lee, and Kansas Republican Senator, Jerry Moran, joined Kentucky Republican Senator, Rand Paul, and Maine Republican Senator, Susan Collins in announcing their refusal to support the motion to proceed on the latest Obamacare Replacement Bill.

Positively, the legislation would have axed individual mandates (which prevented health insurance companies from altering their rates based on the health of the individual),  insurance subsidies, the expansion of Medicaid, and funding for Planned Parenthood.

The Republican mandate has faced strict opposition from both the Democrats and the public. According to an article published by National Review, the majority of the American public dislike individual mandates and desire lower health care costs over all health problems. In spite of this, however, the American public also dislikes attempts to roll-back coverage on pre-existing health conditions.

The Democrats, needless to say, have been overjoyed at the legislation’s failure. Vermont Senator, Bernie Sanders, stated: “I am delighted to see that the disastrous Republic health care plan will not succeed.” Meanwhile, the chair of the Democrat National Committee, Tom Perez, referred to the defeat as a “victory for human decency.”

Speaking from the White House, President Trump commented: “I am disappointed, very disappointed. For so many years I’ve been hearing ‘repeal and replace, let Obamacare fail and then everyone will have to come together to fix it.'” President Trump went on to say: “let Obamacare fail, it’ll be a lot easier, we’re not going to own it. I’m not going to own it. I can tell you Republicans are not going to own it. Let Obamacare fail and then Democrats are going to come to us asking ‘how do we fix it?'”

Republican responses to the failed legislation appear mixed, however. Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, has made an executive decision to revive the Republican’s 2015 Obamacare repeal bill (originally vetoed by President Obama). The bill would repeal Obamacare over two years. But, as a 2017 Congressional Budget Office report points out, the repeal would leave thirty-two million Americans uninsured by 2026.

Other Republicans, such as New Jersey Governor, Chris Christie, have suggested that President Trump abandon his focus on repealing and replacing of Obamacare and instead focus his energies on other priorities. In an interview with MSNBC, Christie commented: “I’d advise him to move on and move on to other priorities like tax reform and infrastructure. I’ve said that to the president for months. I don’t think there’s a will in Congress. I think they’ve shown that there’s no will in Congress for them to work with each other.”

In an attempt to find a solution to the issue, President Trump is planning to host a lunch at the White House with all fifty-two GOP Senators.